While children’s reactions to the doctors can vary depending on age and temperament, the doctor’s office can be an unfamiliar, stressful and scary place for a young child. During the toddler and preschool years, healthcare visits are more frequent with regular well visits and preventative care such as vaccinations and if illnesses or injuries hit.
The experience can be stressful for both the kids and parents, making it difficult for a youngster to understand why these visits are important.
Fear of the doctor is an issue that resonates with many families. A C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital national poll surveyed parents of kids between the ages of 2 to 5 and found that half said their child is afraid of going to the doctor. Further studies show that children ages 2 to 5 have most fear of getting a shot, have stranger anxiety or have bad memories of a previous illness.
If you are struggling to get your child in for checkups, you’re not alone. Consider these five tips for putting their anxiety at ease—as well as yours.
Prepare your child for what to expect.
Be clear and talk about what may happen at their next checkup. For kids, knowing what to expect can be a big help, but avoid making promises that may be broken during the visit, like whether they are getting a shot or not. Lay out how the appointment will go step-by-step by reading a book or watching a show to help manage a child’s anxiety.
Build patient-doctor trust.
Although seeing a different doctor from the child’s normal pediatrician might be inevitable, to avoid stranger anxiety, try to see the same doctor so your child can get to know him or her over time. If kids are able to put a face to their doctor, it may make the experience less scary.
Ensure you’ll be together.
Many children worry they will be separated from their parent during a doctor’s visit. Explain to them ahead of time that you’ll be there the whole time to ease any concerns. And if they have a favorite toy or stuffed animal that brings them comfort, bring that along.
Plan a rewarding experience.
Incentivize your child with good behavior at the doctor’s with a treat or a trip to the park after the exam. Having something positive to look forward to after the appointment may make them less anxious during the visit.
While it is natural to feel nervous or upset when your child is, he or she likely senses your energy. It is important to manage your anxiety in the appropriate way as not to further heighten their anxiousness. If you are calm and comfortable, they’re more likely to mirror those feelings.
Your child may struggle to get over their fear of the doctor, but these tips may make the next visit easier. If you’re concerned with your child’s level of anxiety, talk with their pediatrician. Creating positive affiliations with healthcare can help create healthy habits and attitudes toward medical care that children carry throughout their life.
Irene-Myers Thompson is the wellness director for UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic.